Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Kavey @ The Underground Farmers Market

I recently took part in the UK's first Underground Farmer's Market hosted in the home of MsMarmiteLover, who runs one of London's longest running underground restaurants.

The day went really well and I enjoyed meeting other stall holders (mainly also supper club hosts plus a few bloggers and other home producers) and of course, meeting and selling to the visitors.

Photo courtesy of aforkfulofspaghetti

I also bought myself a few goodies too - my favourites being Beijing street food pancakes from Mama Lan, empanadas from Can Be Bribed With Food and cardamom brownies from A forkful of spaghetti.

Thank you to all those who visited and especially to those who bought some of my goodies. I hope you enjoy them!

To read other peoples' feedback about the day (and see more photos) visit:-
The English Can Cook
A forkful of spaghetti
Lex Eats
The Hatcham Supperclub
Laundry Etc
Moelfaban Secret Supper Club
Scarlett's House of Heavenly Healing


Monday, 29 March 2010

Racing to Racine!

Two Mondays in a row now, I have visited Racine for lunch. "What's the rush?", you might ask... "You've never been before and now twice in the space of 8 days? What's the big deal?"

Well, I'll tell you. The first visit came on the back of the recent food debate, yes, yes, the one I won with my impassioned plea for cheese! One of the judges for that epic event was Henry Harris, chef and owner of Racine. We bonded over a mutual adoration for cheese, Epoisses in particular!

Another of the judges was fellow food blogger and writer, Gastrogeek (one of my favourite blogs, do check it out if you're not already a follower) and she had also never been so we made a date to visit. To our good fortune, a third friend and food blogger, Ginger Gourmand, (yes, I recommend you check her blog out too) was also able to join us!

I failed to take any photos of the restaurant, so excited was I to meet my friends and learn of Ginger Gourmand's exciting news (congratulations!). It's simple but classy dark brown furniture balanced by white linen and pale walls. It feels at the same time comfortable, relaxed and yet a bit of a treat.

Service is warm, well-trained, helpful, efficient. Even on my second visit, staff recognised and greeted me warmly and I could see them doing the same for many other diners. It's amazing how these tiny touches in the welcome can add so much to one's experience.

Meal one:-

Fantastically fresh baguette and butter are brought to the table (and the bread unobtrusively replenished as required).

We ordered from both the a la carte and the prix fixe menu. The prix fixe is an absolute bargain at just £15 for 2 courses and £17.50 for three.

I'm afraid I've already forgotten one of the starters (selected from the prix fixe menu) - I think it may have been herring. Whatever it was, it was deemed tasty.

Two of us went for the soupe à l'oignon gratinée - a classic dish yet one that's so often disappointing. This one was good. This one was very good. Infact, I'd say this was one of the very best French onion soups I've ever eaten. Onions cooked long and slow to impart flavour but not taken so far along the road of caramelisation that they make the soup too sweet. Beef stock that is so intensely full of flavour that, combined with those onions, it delights with every sip. And cheese that has just the right chewy texture and taste, once it's been melted by the heat of the soup. And best of all, enough cheese toast not to run out after two or three bites. Enough to have regular cheesey mouthfuls right down to the bottom of the bowl!

Again, I failed to note down much about the mains, both chosen from the set menu. The fish was beautifully cooked, with a more-ish crispy skin and succulent flesh. My braised steak dish was fabulous - the meat was full of flavour, with it's rich sauce, and tender too. The mash was creamy and buttery goodness.

Before we had time to think about the next course, Henry came out to see us carrying a thing of such beauty. He wanted me to have a prize, he said, for my worthy win in the food debate, and knowing my love for Epoisses, presented us with a whole one for our pleasure. How kind and generous and absolutely perfect! The cheese was, as you'd expect, in perfect condition, oozing and pugent and delicious. I eschewed the offer of bread or crackers and simply ate slices of it on it's own, with the occasional candied walnut, provided alongside! Heaven!

Ginger Gourmand went for the little chocolate pot, which I believe she enjoyed too.

A lovely meal, very reasonably priced, especially if one sticks to the fixed price menu.

Now, the thing is, my husband Pete really does love a good French onion soup. And given that he and I have been traipsing down into central London weekly (during our 3 month sabbatical from work) for delicious (and bargainous) lunches, it seemed to me that I absolutely had to bring him to Racine to try Henry's rendition of the soup for himself.

This we did, just 7 days after my first visit, above. La deuxième visite, alors!

Pete decided on a half bottle of 2005 St Emilion at £19. I can't claim to know much about wine, but it smelled gorgeous and had such a beautiful ruby red colour. Pete felt it worked well with all three of his chosen courses, so a good choice.

Of course, given the praises I'd been singing, Pete ordered the soupe à l'oignon gratinée - and he thought it superb too. Good and rich, not too sweet, the right cheese for the job - his only quibble was the sogginess of the toast.

I adore fresh foie gras. It's one of my very favourite things in the world, so I couldn't even contemplate ordering anything but the hot foie gras, quince and a brioche beignet for my starter. The fatty lobes of liver were beautifully cooked - rich brown caramelised exterior giving way to meltingly soft, almost liquid interior. The eggy brioche beignet gave a nice crisp texture as well as very gentle taste. And the quince gave the requisite sweet and fruity contrast. Quintessentially French, quintessentially perfect.

Pete chose a main dish from the prix fixe menu - the rare roast sirloin, potato and garlic purée, mustard butter. Top quality beef served just as it should be, Pete loved the grain mustard butter and the creamed potato and garlic.

The only quibble here would be size of portion, especially when you compare it to my lamb, below, from the a la carte menu. To me, a fixed price menu should cater to customers looking for a budget option by way of using less expensive ingredients rather than smaller portions. Of course, there's certainly an argument to be made that my dish was too generous rather than the steak one too small!

My persillade of lamb, braised Tarbais beans was a triumphant dish. Moist, sweet, tender lamb with soft white fat and crispy skin served on a hearty tomato and bean stew and garnished with slow-roasted garlic cloves and the persillade itself. The meat itself was top notch, as I had expected given Henry's commitment to careful sourcing. The beans had not been allowed to turn to mush, nor were they undercooked, so gave the perfect solidity to the dish. The soft, puréed garlic that slipped easily out of the skins gave a wonderful sweet burst, utterly mellow as long-roasted garlic should be. Henry's persillade, which included breadcrumbs, I think, as well as parsley, garlic and oil, gave a harsher jolt of garlic against it's sweeter roasted cousin. Perfect!

With the last of his red wine, and then a rich glass of port, Pete enjoyed the Tomme de Savoie, a mild, semi-firm, pale yellow cow's milk cheese with a thick brownish-grey rind made in Savoie in the French Alps. This was chosen from the set menu.

I could not resist a clafoutis with griottines choosing to have it with crème anglaise rather than flambeed with, I think, eau de vie. The kirsch-soaked little morello cherries (pitted, rather than stone-in) were lovely, but I felt there could definitely have been more of them given the amount of batter. I also felt the dish just a touch shallow to really provide the batter much depth to show off. And for me, the crème anglais was a touch too sweet. All that said, I still enjoyed the dish.

I mentioned above that service is good. One way to assess this is not just how the staff deal with the normal aspects of advising on the menu, taking orders, serving dishes and drinks and clearing away but also how they deal with anything that does go wrong (and nowhere never gets anything wrong). Whilst we were waiting, quite happily for our desserts, the floor manager popped over to apologise for the delay (we hadn't noticed it being uncomfortably long as we appreciated time for our mains to go down!). He explained that a minor error in oven temperature had spoiled the first clafoutis and that the kitchen were quickly making another. In the meantime, he brought over a complimentary port and dessert wine for us to enjoy with the cheese and dessert, when they arrived. Unexpected, unnecessary, but much appreciated.

Racine aims to be a high quality neighbourhood French restaurant. Henry's mission is to serve carefully sourced, well cooked seasonal dishes alongside a short but great wine list. And he believes in the importance of warm attentive service. Does he succeed? I think so, and very well indeed.

My only gripe is that Racine isn't in my neighbourhood, though perhaps it's just as well for both my bank outgoings and my calorific ingoings!

Racine on Urbanspoon


Saturday, 27 March 2010

Déjeuner a L'Oranger!

So far during our 3 month sabbatical we've enjoyed weekday lunches at Hawksmoor, Bob Bob Ricard, and Launceston Place. These were before our trip to the Falklands. We carried on as soon as we got back, through late February and March, though I'm a bit late posting the reviews!

The L'Oranger lunch menu offers a choice of four starters and four main courses and one can select a dessert from the full dessert menu. At £27.50 for 2 courses and £31.50 for three it's a little more expensive than some of the other lunch menus we've enjoyed but still reasonably priced, I think. And having so many dishes to choose from, all of which appeal, is always a pleasure.

The room clearly has history, which is not surprising given it's prime St James Street location. Inside are beautiful age-worn mirror panels, elegant ceiling roses and cornices and, nearer the front of the restaurnant, wooden panelling, though the panels nearer the front seem to have been painted with a faux-wood effect, which doesn't quite fit with the rest! The main dining area is bathed in light from a beautiful skylight which suggests it may have been an orangerie; perhaps this is what the restaurant is named for?

We are initially seated beneath the glass roof, but I suspect my sneezing might be triggered by the huge display of flowers just next to us, so ask if we can move. We are given a spacious table nearer the front of the restaurant.

As usual, we ask for tap water, which is regularly refilled without prompting. We are offered a range of bread, both types tried are fresh and fantastic. I like that the butter is served with crushed peppercorns rather than the ubiquitous sea salt - this gives a wonderful fleeting heat to each bite!

Tiny cups of hot, thick and creamy cauliflower soup drizzled with a garlic-herb oil whet our appetites. I like this simple offering much more than the complex, strangely sour, runny cauliflower amuse bouche at Launceston Place.

For his starter Pete chooses the 'tartelette au boudin noir et pommes fondantes et croquantes, vinaigrette truffée - thin tart of black pudding, green apple, truffle vinaigrette'. The tart, in this case, consists of a very, very thin and crispy toast or pastry circle on which the black pudding is piled. Pete is surprised by the meltingly soft texture of the pudding and, whilst he enjoys it immensely, says he prefers the slightly more solid texture of puddings with added filler, though I love it as it is. The apples and dressed salad both work well next to the iron-rich pudding.

My beautifully plated 'l’oeuf poché sur canapé croustillant, duxelle de champignons Mousseline de clémentine - poached egg on toasted bread, wild mushrooms, clementine mousseline' is a work of art! I know many will dismiss it as unbearably poncy but for me, whilst taste will always remain the most important aspect, I'm quite happy to enjoy the visual thrill of delicious food presented so delightfully. I adore the deep, woody flavour of the duxelle between slices of fried toast. The egg is perfectly poached and subtly enhanced by the very light mayonnaise sauce - I'm guessing this is the clementine mousseline, though I don't detect any citrus flavour in it myself. Pete says he'd probably leave the clementine segments out of the dish but I love the burst of sweet juice they provide. I could happily eat this again right now!

Both the other starters - a mascarpone and Serrano ham risotto with Parmesan grissini and a pumpkin & chestnut velouté with smoked bacon bits - also appealed.

The 'rumsteack sauce aux poivre de Séchouan, gratin de navets au parfum de muscade - beef rump steak, Sichuan pepper sauce, gratin of turnips, slightly flavored with nutmeg' is a fairly classic steak dish. Served medium-rare, as requested, it's tender and full of flavour. The turnip gratin is beautiful - thick, creamy, cheesy and with that hint of earthiness from the turnips. The sauce is a simple but nicely executed pepper sauce.

I almost order the steak too but am determined we should order something different. I so very, very rarely order chicken in restaurants that, after a brief discussion with the maitre d' I opt for the 'pot‐au‐feu de volaille, garniture grand‐mère, toastinette mousse de foie'. The translation of 'poultry pot‐au‐feu, garniture grand‐mère, chicken liver mousse on toast' is probably not that helpful for those who aren't familiar with pot-au-feu (I am but only with beef). And I check whether my guess that the garniture grand‐mère means vegetables and broth from the pot‐au‐feu - it does, though I'm told that I'm welcome to switch to a regular side serving of vegetables instead.

I'm quite surprised when the dish arrives as I expected the chicken to be served with it's broth - instead it's beautifully cut and propped up with the toast, and dressed with a creamy sauce and what I think is the same garlic-herb oil that we tasted in the cauliflower soup. I'm mollified when my vegetables arrived - these are served with some of the pot‐au‐feu cooking broth. The chicken is wonderfully soft and tender though I'm glad of the sauces to give a kick of flavour. The winning element for me though are the vegetables in the broth. The courgettes and shallots in particular, are extremely good. The broth itself, I think, might have been boosted with a splash of brandy or wine. This isn't at all what I'd normally choose and I relish stepping outside my red meat rut!

Neither of us were in the mood for fish, though the salmon fillet en croûte and the fillet of sea bream in a lobster sauce sounded good.

I can't tell you the exact names of what we ordered for dessert as I didn't note them down but I can certainly describe them!

Pete selects the Saint Honoré - a profiterole on a crushed blackcurrant base with vanilla and violet cream. It is decorated with thin chocolate sticks and is a resounding success, both visually and in tastes and textures. The sharp blackcurrant, flowery voilet and delicate vanilla complement each other well.

I don't love my matcha madeleine nearly as much. For a start, I am disappointed that it is described as a madeleine, such a specific shape and texture, both of which are missing in this dessert. In place of a soft, moist sponge is a soggy green layer with very little clear matcha flavour. What flavour there may have been is probably masked by the very strong flambéed banana layer - this is as described but, in retrospect, clearly far too robust to be combined with the delicate green tea beneath. The morillo cherries are welcome, their fresh sharp sweet flesh is reviving. I really don't like the appearance of those lurid orange chocolate sticks - whereas the plain ones look so elegant on the Saint Honoré these vivid carrot-like shafts look garish and gimmicky. To top it off, the overly sweet syrups decorating the dish aren't very nice either, both in terms of flavour and appearance. I am all the more disappointed as there were a number of other very appealing choices on the menu; I am kicking myself for choosing poorly!

By the end of our meal, we are too full even for coffee though I do enviously eye up the petits fours at a nearby table!

Service is very good here. Friendly, knowledgable, unintrusive yet there when you need them. It certainly adds to the positive experience that the food itself generates.

I'm not sure how regularly they change their set menu dishes - the same ones are still listed on their website, as they were before our visit a few weeks ago, so I'm assuming they are still being served. I would prefer a faster turnaround as this would certainly encourage me to visit again.

L'Oranger on Urbanspoon


Friday, 26 March 2010

Ladies Pudfest 2010!

Back in January 16 food-loving ladies assembled for the inaugural Pigfest at St John bar and restaurant in London's Smithfield.

As documented then, whilst the suckling pig was marvellous, service went a little awry. Luckily for us St John General Manager Thomas Blythe takes customer service very seriously and invited us back for desserts and bubbly by way of apology. (Dessert because, with the service issues, a few of us left before dessert was served on the original night). In the end, work commitments and illness meant 16 became just 5.

We had a very lovely evening at the restaurant, sitting and chatting with Thomas for a few hours over our bubbly and desserts. One of the bar staff created a wonderful, sweet and fruity non-alcoholic cocktail for those of us not drinking and we each ordered a dessert from the a la carte menu.

Thanks for a lovely evening, Thomas!


Thursday, 25 March 2010

Hot Chilli & Ginger Pickle!

The two chilli and ginger pickles I made for the stall I did at Covent Garden Real Food Market last year have proved popular. So I thought I'd make some more for the Underground Farmers Market, later this month. (See here for more information).

This is adapted from recipes on Mamta's Kitchen, our family recipe site.

Kavey's Hot Chilli & Ginger Pickle

1 kilo hot green chillis (I usually look for the tiny green chillis, easily found in Indian groceries, but this time, the staff adivsed me that the fatter, larger ones were hotter)
350 grams ginger
3 tablespoons salt
2-3 tablespoons turmeric powder
4 tablespoons black mustard seeds, coarsely ground
300 ml mustard oil (heated to smoking and then cooled)
600 ml malt vinegar (or other paler vinegar if preferred)

Note: These amounts really are a guideline. I started off by adding only 150 ml of mustard oil and 350 of vinegar but realised that for the volume of chillis I had needed more. I would recommend making sure you have extra in stock just incase. And because I upped the liquid, I also added more salt, turmeric and mustard seeds too.


  • Wash chillis and remove stems.

  • Peel the ginger.

  • Chop the chillis and ginger finely. (Mum and I do this using the slicer disk in our food-processors but, of course, you can do it by hand. If processing, take care not to blitz into a paste, you want decent sized pieces).

  • Place all ingredients into a bowl and mix well.
  • Transfer to sterilised, airtight jars.
  • Make additional pickling liquid (mustard oil, vinegar, turmeric, salt and mustard seeds) to top up jars if needed.

  • Once sealed, the jars should be left on a warm, sunny windowsill for a couple of weeks and turned upside down once every few days.


Tuesday, 23 March 2010

The Silver Spoon Pasta Book

The Silver Spoon Pasta book by Phaidon is a monster of a cookery book! With over 50 shapes of pasta and 360 individual recipes it's a real tome of reference for traditional Italian pasta recipes. And just like so many of our friends, we find pasta a wonderfully delicious, yet quick and simple, option for a weekday dinner - just what you're looking for when you don't want to compromise on taste and quality but don't necessarily want to spend too long cooking either!

You can see from the veritable hula skirt of post-it strips marking the recipes that stood out for me on my first "flick" through that this book should keep me busy for a while!

However, this also brings to immediate attention a minor weakness of the book for me and that's the way the recipes are grouped into chapters by pasta shape. I know that many Italians adhere quite strictly to tradition when it comes to matching pasta sauce to pasta shape but, for those of us who don't have that mental table in our minds - by some kind of delightful national genetic memory - this ordering of recipes makes it more difficult to find and compare similar recipes. If I fancy something with a meat sauce, or maybe a pesto or perhaps something lemony or cheesy I have to either flick through the whole book or search the ingredients-based index in the back of the book.

Maybe my mistake is that I don't decide on pasta first and look for a traditional sauce to go with it second? I don't know about you but, I usually have a flavour, texture and even main ingredient in mind when I have a yearning for pasta! If I'm craving a ragu then a pesto just won't do!

There's also a fair bit of repetitiveness. All in all there are seven pesto recipes and I lost count of the mushroom ones! Which means flicking back and forth to compare them all and trying to pin down which one to cook!

Still. Putting these little gripes aside, there are many tempting ideas to shake us out of our pasta rut for the foreseeable future. Many of the recipes are very simple and therefore just right for a weekday night.

The recipes are succinctly written; there are two or three per page. These are interspersed with appealing full page colour photographs, though only one or two per chapter. I would prefer pictures of more of the recipes, even if this means reducing the size of the pictures to show two or even four dishes per photo page.

The first recipe we followed was the very simple sauce for spaghetti with gorgonzola and pancetta (page 60). The recipe resembles very closely a sauce we once made reasonably regularly, but hadn't made for ages. Amounts of cream, gorgonzola cheese and bacon cubes were adjusted according to Waitrose's nearest pack sizes and we switched the pasta from spaghetti to fusilli lunghi bucati, which is one of my favourites! Quick, simple and absolutely delicious - for us this recipe was more of a reminder about a sauce we've made before than an introduction to something new (which is no bad thing!)

Next up we made pennette and mozzarella gratin (page 136). Again, this reminded us of a faux macaroni cheese recipe we used to make many years ago. Instead of a white sauce the recipe uses an egg to create a kind of egg flan between the pennette when baked. To be honest, we found this a bit bland, and should have trusted our instincts to either signficantly increase the cooking time or pop under a hot grill to better brown the surface cheese. I think our almost-forgotten egg, cheese and sour cream version works better.

The third dish we made from the book was rigatoni with meatballs (page 147). This was a nice dish, and straightforward to make, though a little more time consuming that the other two recipes. We both enjoyed it but we'definitely tweak it next time as the tomato sauce could do with more depth and complexity of flavours. I think it's a great starting point for those who've never made their own meatball and tomato pasta sauce from scratch and it's really not difficult at all.

Thus far we've only followed recipes from the first half of the book - focusing on recipes for dried pasta.

The second half of the book provides recipes for fresh pasta including making your own - though the instructions are scant, with no useful illustrations on forming some of the more complex shapes. We've not made our own pasta before, so I'm going to search out some more detailed instructions elsewhere before returning to this book for dough recipes and ideas on dishes featuring the pasta.

I'll post again when we've done that to give a fuller review of the book.

It's a hefty compendium and, for those of you with space on your cookery book shelves, it's a nice reference to have, if only to jolt you out of making the same old pasta sauce time and time again.

Thanks to Phaidon for the review copy.

The Silver Spoon Pasta book is published by Phaidon Press and has a cover price of £24.95. It is currently available from Amazon for £15.69.